Just Forget the Facts, Ma’am

There’s a great little term newspapers use for how they write news stories: it’s called “inverted pyramid style.” Writers start with the most important information and then work their way down, putting the least important bits at the bottom.

One of my J-School teachers said the practice began back when putting a story “on the wire” meant using the telegraph; thus it was important to be sure the main idea was covered even if the transmission was interrupted. (Probably apocryphal, but fun.) Today, of course, the inverted pyramid style is used for copyfit purposes — layout staff know they can lop off the final few sentences without messing with the meaning.

I mention this basic bedrock of journalism because some people seem to have forgotten how it works. Take CNN, which recently ran this story:

Girl buried alive thanks God for rescue
Officer tells of finding 8-year-old under concrete slabs

LAKE WORTH, Florida (CNN) — An 8-year-old girl who police say was raped and left for dead in a landfill asked for a pastor “so she could thank God” shortly after her rescue from beneath a pile of stones, her godmother said Monday.

Police said the girl also identified her attacker even before she was removed Sunday from a trash bin at the abandoned South Florida landfill.

“She stated that she wanted a pastor to pray with her so she could thank God for saving her life,” Lisa Taylor, the godmother, told CNN. “She’s 8 years old. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard?”…

So, judging by the headline and the lede, the most important fact about this story is what the girl’s godmother said. Not how she was found, or by whom, which are in ‘graphs 25 and 26. Not who’s been detained for the charge, which is ‘graph 8. Not the words of the police chief, who in the penultimate para calls it “a miracle, [with] some luck and a lot of good police work.”

To CNN, all of this pales in comparison to the adorable factor, with the little girl asking for a pastor. Now that’s a sweet image, definitely. But it ain’t journalism.

For bonus points: try to find the paragraph where they say the girl thanked the rescuers.

Hit Me With It